God tells us in the bible that He is our husband, Father, judge, and our justice (Isaiah 54:5-8; Psalm 68:5). Does that mean we're justified to expect no suffering circumstances? Do our circumstances determine the level of God's love? Do our circumstances determine the level of our own goodness?
I lived through years of trouble with someone. After an angry, fruitless, out-of-control argument I remember yelling at God one day, stabbing my finger toward heaven and yelling, “You said you’re my protector! My keeper! What kind of protector are you when you keep leaving me in this situation? I've been trusting on you for better!”
I’ll never forget the sharp indignation I felt in the Lord’s response. 'Who is he to me? What is he? Why do you fear him? There is not a hair on your head that can be harmed because I prevent him from touching you. You give him too much power. You need to understand that he can’t move beyond where I let him. I hold the powers that hold him.’
Then I read this scripture.
Psalm 118:6 (CSB)
The LORD is for me; I will not be afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me?
I understood then that God saw things very differently to me. He knew the outcome. He required I content myself with that. I needed to be okay with what He was okay with because He said He would equip me with whatever I needed. I needed to learn not to hear the commotion of my emotions but to be surrendered to God in the circumstance. My focus had to shift from the physical to the supernatural and understand I was where God placed me and He would deal with our lives in His way.
God expected that I would be willing to walk through the wilderness, the suffering, knowing that He was by my side. I was to focus on Him being by my side, not on the wilderness.
Understanding God even in the worst situations works itself out like this.
God allows bad things to happen, sometimes because they are a consequence of something we've done, sometimes to test our endurance and our faithfulness; overall it's the rule of sin. He will allow hardship, hurts, betrayals, loss, grief, misrepresentation, all kinds of trauma to get us to a place where we seek Him for who He is, not what He can do for us.
He will allow us to get to rock bottom so all that is shaken can be shaken and what remains will be immovable.
He wants to teach us that we need to be okay in Him, in any situation. Surrendered.
Proverbs 3:11-12 (NIV) says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
Hebrews 12:7-8 (NIV) expands on that. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.”
You might think, ‘stuff that. What a crock’ (as I’ve heard said).
That’s your choice. But for me, I wanted to discover how what is written in the bible is practically applied and outlived in my life. Through that, I wanted to discover the truth and the goodness of how God works and how I need to trust with a child-like faith (Matthew 18:3; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:17).
I asked God in my anguish, why do we suffer as Christians, Lord? Why is this what you call us to? This is what I understand.
We suffer because of our desire for autonomy.
Autonomy is not a construct of Gods. It is a worldly construct. Autonomy has its root in separateness – rebellion in a Kingdom rank. We are to seek first His Kingdom. A kingdom is not a democracy! As long as we fight for our autonomy as a Christian we are fighting for separateness from God. How many Christians do this? Our relationship needs to be based on love. So, where does separateness come from? Sin. Sin is a campaign for autonomy.
Autonomy is a desire for our own way; for things working out the way we want, the way we think we need – we are not relinquishing our autonomy to God. Autonomy is our enemy as a Christ follower.
It ends up being a toss-up between two slaveries – slavery to sin or slavery to Christ. Where does each one take us?
Romans 6:16 (NLT)
Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.
I remember God said to me, "I have proven my faithfulness to you, now I want you to prove your faithfulness to me". For a long while I thought God was justified in 'punishing' me for my wrongdoing but when I began living righteously and faithfully I expected He would turn things around and my life would portray the difference. It didn't. I realised that's a works-based mentality. Not grace-based. That's just not an accurate assessment of what a God-centred life looks like.
God has a plan. Even if I prove faithful, my faithfulness has to go deeper into surrender.
If God allows me to remain in a frustrated state of being because of my circumstances, I need to deal with the frustration, rather than demand God change the circumstances. Surrendered.
If God allows things to remain in an unfinished condition for years on end, no matter that I follow Him in righteousness and love Him with all of my heart, God has a reason and a purpose. I’m not to think “I’ve been righteous so now I should gain something in reward.”
If God calls me to love someone who is hard-hearted towards me, I need to be willing, mouldable and pliable in God’s hands to complete His work in me and in those He's dealing with in my circumstances, in His time. Surrendered. I am the clay. He is the potter.
In this mix of frustration and desperation, turmoil, deep anxiety, deep confusion and complete weariness these scriptures seemed to leap out of the pages of the bible to me and massage my heart.
Ezra 9:8-9 (The Message)
“Now for a brief time God, our God, has allowed us, this battered band, to get a firm foothold in his holy place so that our God may brighten our eyes and lighten our burdens as we serve out this hard sentence. We were slaves; yet even as slaves, our God didn’t abandon us. He has put us in the good graces of the kings of Persia and given us the heart to build The Temple of our God, restore its ruins, and construct a defensive wall in Judah and Jerusalem.
I carried in me a constant dread. I lived in fear of what would happen to me. I didn't believe in my own ability to fight. I didn't believe in God's desire to take care of me. One day I came across this verse.
Psalm 112:7 (Living Bible)
He does not fear bad news, nor live in dread of what may happen. For he is settled in his mind that Jehovah will take care of him.
Psalm 44:6 (Living Bible)
I do not trust my weapons. They could never save me. Only you can give us the victory over those who hate us.
It's an awful thing to live with hatred. But whether we feel a victim of such a thing or we entertain it ourselves, we all choose sides. If we are not for God, we are against Him (Matthew 12:30). The thing to realise is, we don’t fight against people. Behind them, and what’s going on in our lives, there is a spiritual battle taking place. The people around us that cause us trouble are being influenced by an unseen world they may not even recognise (Ephesians 6:12). We learn from the bible not to hold things against them, but to see past them to the spiritual dimension and to fight against that. God gives us ways to handle the other side we fight against. (Ephesians 6.)
I am not defined by others. I am defined by my heavenly Father. I am defined and kept by my Maker. Does that mean I don’t ever get hurt? No, unfortunately it doesn’t mean that. But it means I have the grace to deal with it and forgive as I go, because God’s heart is my own and God’s heart is for all hurting people. All hurting people, hurt people but I don't have to receive what's dished out. God has worked out His plan for my future and that brings me hope for what is ahead.
God is building our character in times of crises.
I heard something a long time ago that I remind myself of. Even as a Christian, I need to be able to trust myself in the situations I face. Trust myself and back myself to have balance. That comes from my Rock, Jesus, but I need to know my own soul and trust my own ability too, and embrace it.
Psalm 44:8 (Living Bible)
My constant boast is God. I can never thank you enough!
In those dark times the Lord constantly showed me He loved me - still does! He was with me despite my circumstances that felt hopeless. He didn't leave me alone to think my own thoughts – but I learnt to practise running to Him, and hearing from Him.
Life circumstances are not an indicator of God’s goodness or lack of care. God’s goodness and care never change. It’s we who need to change our attitude through life circumstances.